I am sometimes asked what the most desirable trait is for new hires, especially those in the Millennial generation (born roughly 1980-2000). While there are many desirable traits in employees and they need to know specific skills, the most important trait is a positive attitude toward taking initiative. Employees who take initiative become the most valuable members of any team and are often sought by competitors.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking does not align with our education system. Memorization and test-taking on specific subjects does not foster an entrepreneurial attitude. It actually stifles it. David and Tom Kelley, in their book Creative Confidence, note how we are taught that the only creative people are found in the arts. Taking initiative is not a hard skill that can be learned in a university, but an attitude that permeates all responsibilities. You are creative and can find creative solutions to everyday problems. Ask yourself if you are working to serve your employer, or if you are looking for your employer to serve you. Here are some ways of thinking that will help you cultivate this attitude.
Constantly learn. You do not stop learning when you graduate from high school or college. The best employees take time to learn the best practices in their field, attend networking and industry conferences, and pay attention to what competitors are doing. The best employees use their limited free time to improve themselves by learning new skills, reading about their industry, and always seeking new knowledge. This adds value for your employer because you can implement best practices and stay up to date on the latest technology and trends in your field. Ask your boss if you can use company resources to purchase books, attend conferences, and improve yourself.
Ask for new challenges. Most employees have some time available between projects, during slow times of year, or at some point. The best employees acknowledge this with their boss and ask to help with new challenges. Perhaps you ask a colleague to help with his or her work so you can learn a different part of the firm. Perhaps you want to try a new project you’ve never done before. Or maybe you want to attend a conference on best practices in your industry. Your goal should be to become so productive and essential to the firm that you are invaluable and your colleagues would suffer if you left since you add so much to the team.
Find gaps and fix them. There are always areas that need improvement. If not, consultants would be out of business in a hurry! It is easy to point out the problem and wait for someone else to fix it. The best employees point out the problem and find solutions. Even better employees implement solutions and find it better to beg forgiveness than ask permission and wait around.
You will be the most desirable employee as a Millennial if you have an attitude and a drive to take initiative. Unfortunately, most Millennials do not follow this advice which might be why the generation has a reputation for being narcissistic, needy, and difficult to manage. Let’s work to change that stereotype!
Roger Custer is the CEO of America’s Future Foundation.